You can always spot a fabulous technology when it can be used as a verb, like email, text, tweet. I’ll ‘Skype’ you, is one of those wonderful verbs. Over the last two years I’ve been doing voluntary Maths and Science tuition for kids that find these subjects difficult. It’s been a mix of face-to-face and Skype. So what follows is a short comparison between these two techniques.
Skype is one of the wonders of the web, mainly because it’s free. Who would have thought that videoconferencing would cost nothing and that any old Joe from any old computer, and many phones, could do it for free? In these frugal times that’s a gift from the heavens.
Death of distance
Skype is a classic ‘death of distance’ technology. It quite simply frees us from the tyranny of location and cost. Both teacher and student can be literally anywhere. There’s nothing worse for a young person than having to trek round to a tutor’s house in the dark to do some ‘learning’. Booting up Skype is so much quicker and easier.
Skype forces both teacher and student to focus. This may be because you feel that you’re using up valuable online resource, even though it’s free. In any case, there is real sustained attention, which I think is better than a one-to-one face-to-face session. You are far less likely to drift off-task, as either teacher or learner. That means more learning in less time.
The fact that you’re not sitting next to them, and leaning into them, gives them time to breath, think, reflect and respond in their own time. It’s far more measured, with properly paced, dialogue, as the teacher is less likely to talk over the student and more likely to wait until they give a thoughtful response. Dylan William has shown that teachers tend to ask questions then jump in too early when the student fails to respond. I’ve found his 3 second rule (wait 3 secs before saying anything) much easier when online. Both sides take greater care to participate in a structured and constructive dialogue. Of course, you can be even more structured using the message service, which forces you to wait until the other person has responded with a written (and therefore considered) answer.
Prevents peer problems
But it’s the subtler issue of peer distance that really surprised me. Let’s face it, adults and teachers are not the peers of teenagers. We’re the opposite of peers, in the sense that whatever’s cool for us is the opposite of cool for them. I’ve found that being online, brings with it a healthy form of psychological distance that prevents peer problems. It’s more of an adult to adult conversation in the sense that the technology is a leveller. It puts you both on the same psychological plane.
Shared learning resources
When it comes to doing things, like setting a problem, responding with an answer, illustrating a point with a diagram or downloading a past paper or online resource such as BBC Bitesize, you can do so while keeping the Skype channel open. No need to have the video on, just have the new window full screen and the audio dialogue can continue. This is great as you both have your full attention on the content, not the psychological noise you get in face-to-face sessions.
You can record your Skype sessions for free, integrate with outlook, create alerts, use whiteboards, tutoring tools (just click on ‘Conversation’ then ‘Extras)’. There’s literally dozens of tools that allow do anything from customise to the sharing of files and resources.
Some of these virtues are simple and clear; it’s free and frees you from the tyranny of location. Others advantages are more psychological; increased attention, better dialogue and levelling out of peer effects. Lastly, there’s the practical advantages around shared online resources. Bottom line: Skype’s a vastly underused tool that’s made for learning.